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Black Christians Existed Long Before Slavery

by Todd A. Smith

 

All I Want For Christmas is the Truth

 

One’s belief in Christianity does not come via inheritance.

Just because one’s ancestors or parents found salvation in Jesus Christ does not mean future generations automatically inherit their salvation or status as a Christian.

As we celebrated Christmas 2014, I was amazed that many of my African-American brothers and sisters still believe that today’s Black Christians would not be Christians if it were not for slavery.

While Christianity was obviously falsely and diabolically used to condone the slavery of Africans and the destruction of many Native American tribes, slavery has virtually nothing to do with Blacks who are Christians today or the first Black Christians.

It is unfortunate that misinformation leads many to have a negative view on Christ and Christianity, but this Christmas season it is important that we take a true spiritual and historical look at Christianity and its history in the Black community.

As far back as the fourth century A.D., Coptic Christianity experienced exponential growth in African countries like Ethiopia.

While many Africans were not exposed to Christianity until the evils of the Middle Passage and American slavery, many Black Africans accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior long before some of their White brethren.

Furthermore, Christianity is an individual decision, not a group decision or consensus.

Unlike other religions, Christianity is more relationship than religion.  Therefore each Christian has to believe Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave for their sins in order to be saved and be called a Christian.

As a result, the fact that many of our African-American ancestors were exposed to Christianity and even accepted Christ during slavery has nothing to do with today’s Black Christians. 

Despite the controversy surrounding the origins of Black Christians, African-Americans still constitute a large portion of America’s religious community.

According to 2009 data from Pew Research & Public Life Project, 87 percent of Blacks describe themselves as belonging to one religious group or another.

Of that 87 percent, 78 percent are Protestant, with only one percent describing himself or herself as agnostic or atheist.

However, younger Blacks are more likely to be unaffiliated with a religious group with 19 percent of those under age 30 unaffiliated while only seven percent of those over age 65 were unaffiliated. 

While one issue may not be the reason that younger Blacks are not affiliated with a religious group, it is up to Black Christians to debunk inaccurate historical myths that are causing many Black Christians to leave the church.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Ethiopia was Christianized in the 4th century CE by two brothers from Tyre—St. Frumentius, later consecrated the first Ethiopian bishop, and Aedesius.  They won the confidence of King Ezana at Aksum (a powerful kingdom in northern Ethiopia) and were allowed to evangelize.  Toward the end of the 5th century, nine monks from Syria are said to have brought monasticism to Ethiopia and encouraged the translation of the Scriptures into the Ge’ez language.”

Furthermore, the Ethiopian Coptic Church followed the Coptic Egyptian Church in only recognizing Jesus Christ’s divine nature.

Although the church has many issues it has to address like preachers ignoring the Scripture to preach their own opinions to sex abuse in the Catholic Church, it is up to the Christian community to expose false stereotypes that others have about their religion and its history.

Furthermore, it is up to Black Christians to teach the truth to those who do not know that Black Christians existed long before slavery.

Will that bring more Black Christians back to the church?  Who knows?  But the truth should be passed down from generation to generation, and the truth always sets people free.

This article was published on Friday 26 December, 2014.
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